This weekend I ventured out to the town of Salem, trying to make a boring chore a little more fun. From Boston it’s just 25 minutes or so up the road and I’ve heard that October is the best time to go, when they are in full Halloween extravaganza mode. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Salem did not live up to the mental images swimming in my head. Despite being a beautiful 85 degree Columbus day, I was not too happy as soon as I arrived, shortly becoming swamped in bumper to bumper tourist traffic, everyone looking for a place to park mid-morning just like me. I tried in vain to parallel park my way into a particularly tight spot, and while I thought I had just gotten lucky, I realized too late that it was empty for a reason. I soon found myself in an Austin Powers moment inching forward and back between a big black SUV and a chunky Cadillac sedan. I had to park far from the downtown in the end, walking over a mile to and from. Walking to downtown, I never felt so out of place. Although the tree-lined streets bordered the most adorable and well-kept houses, the people were anything but. Sweatpants and hoodies seemed the order of the day everywhere I looked, granted the only people about seemed to be coming in and out the liquor stores on every corner. Me in my skirt and flats seemed dressy, and drew looks from the lounging sweatshirt clad men, complete with their hood up and sunglasses on. I think there is something wrong if you’re lounging about in a sweatshirt in near 90 degree heat, but hey, I’m the clueless tourist here.
Finally in downtown Salem, the crowd was too large for comfort, and I kept tripping on little kids, then subsequently colliding with their frantic parents. Nasty witch statues were outside of every store, which the kids delighted in ripping the hair off and out, while their parents yelled at them to smile for the camera. All I wanted was a cute place to eat, and I was promised fresh locally sourced ingredients from a family owned artisan bakery that I read about in a magazine feature. The sandwich shop that looked so cute on the outside was like a diner inside, and somehow absurdly large with plates of food to match. I asked if they had sandwiches to go, to which the waiter responded “We do everything, Whaddya want?” I looked around and saw he was right, racks of lamb and huge steaks precariously piled atop potato and gravy mountains kept emerging from the kitchen. For lunch? I just ordered a sandwich to go and squeezed my way out. I wanted to find a nice shady bench to eat on and people watch. The only bench I could find looked right in to a tattoo parlor, which was surprisingly and almost suspiciously busy. I wouldn’t have thought tattoos did big business in a tourist area, especially since the biggest sign on the door was the surprisingly grumpy “This is not a shortcut to the mall.” I thought it was a joke until I realized there actually was a mall around the corner, the last thing I would have expected for a town founded in the 1630’s. Most of the shops were kitschy spell casting supplies or T-shirts announcing how you survived Salem, but there were a few cute home decor stores, a yarn shop, a vintage clothing shop, and a bead store. As I looked on a man in period clothing announced a trial for a suspected witch, reenacting the famous witch trials and offering tourists a spot on the “jury.” This is more like what I was expecting, but my curiosity turned to eye rolling as soon as the poor costumed man and his fake accent was drowned out by a college kid with a mic and amp shouting for people to come watch sexy coeds sing acapella. I’m sorry? Is that how coeds rock Salem? Strangely people were more interested in that then the period reenactment, and I sort of looked around wondering if I was in the right part of Salem. Was this all it was about? After circling most of the shops worth visiting, I was thoroughly sweaty and craving something cold. One cute shop was advertising “old fashioned frozen custard.” It sounded interesting at the time, but in hindsight sounds pretty disgusting. I gave it a shot anyway and starting walking back to my car. The only way I can describe it was like melted marshmallow turned soft serve, with plenty of corn syrup. I was sick by the time I got to my car, and thought I might vomit driving myself back, which would be hard to escape from.
So all in all not the best visit, but I’m sure it’s mostly not Salem’s fault. I didn’t want to pay to see any of the museums or galleries of historical stuff, so I had to make due with browsing the not so nice stores and fending off hoards of people. At least the walk back also afforded some nice seascape scenery, which I always enjoy. Too bad I was feeling too sick to really appreciate it. One unexpected upside to the drive to Salem, rather than Salem itself, was seeing the town of Swampscott. No, it doesn’t sound like a nice kind of place, but in fact it was beautiful. I would have loved to spend a summer day there, maybe next year.